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5% Discount on Legal Highs, Salvia Divinorum and Everything Else From The Coffeesh0p

Legal Highs & The 2010 Drug Strategy

Last week saw the release of the UK Government’s 2010 drug strategy, and so far, this is all I’ve had time to say on the matter:

While I may have spent the time since doing some hardcore diversification (more on that at a later date…), what the government actually proposes sounds more ridiculous as each day passes, so I’ve gone through all the new publications, pulled out everything related to legal highs and displayed them below for your convenience. I’ve also listed a few other choice quotes that stood out at the time (I’m sure there’s more to be found, but I’ve only skimmed it). My comments are in pink.

Drug Strategy 2010 Main Document

Over the last few years, a new trend has emerged. There is emerging evidence that young people are taking new legal chemicals instead of or as well as other drugs. Most of these substances have never been tested for use by humans. The immediate risks they pose or the long term damage they are doing, are often not immediately apparent as their harms are unknown.
  • If the problem is “young people”, why not restrict it like alcohol?
  • Even if legal highs were trialled like pharmaceuticals, they’d still never be approved for consumption because they’re largely recreational
This Government is committed to an evidence-based approach. High quality scientific advice in this complex field is therefore of the utmost importance. This is why we value the work and independent advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which has experts from fields that include science, medicine, law enforcement and social policy. We are committed to both maintaining this expertise and ensuring the ACMD’s membership has the flexibility to respond to the accelerating pace of challenges. The proper consideration of that advice is at the heart of enabling us to deliver this strategy, including the reforms required to tackle the problem of emerging new psychoactive substances (‘legal highs’).
  • There’s plenty of evidence showing prohibition doesn’t work – consumption will stay the same (if not actually increase); sales can’t be taxed, purity will decrease, users are less likely to seek help in an emergency. Actually, here’s some evidence our former MP sent to Alan Johnson last year when he sacked David Nutt.
  • When mephedrone was banned, it was clear the government intended to ban it anyway, pressuring the ACMD to hurry the fuck up while reducing a lot of their hard work to a mere formality.
  • The government wants to scrap the requirement to have scientists on the ACMD. More info on that at The Guardian.

The Government is determined to address the issue of so called ‘legal highs’. We know that these substances can pose a serious threat, especially to the health of young people. We need a swift and effective response and are therefore redesigning the legal framework through the development of temporary class drug orders so we can take immediate action. We will improve the forensic analytical capability for new psychoactive substances and will establish an effective forensic early warning system.

UKBA are undertaking enforcement action at the border to target and intercept consignments of these new substances. The Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) is currently developing approaches to identify importers, distributors and sellers of ‘legal highs’ and disrupt their ventures, including activity against websites. We are also introducing technology at the borders to identify these new types of drugs.

These enforcement activities will be combined with prevention, education and treatment. We will
continue to emphasise that, just because a drug is legal to possess, it does not mean it is safe and it is
likely that drugs sold as ‘legal highs’ may actually contain substances that are illegal to possess.

Legal means safe!

  • First paragraph suggests more powers to ban stuff is the only possible way of “addressing” the “issue”. Very much shoot first, ask questions later…
  • Activities against websites, which aren’t actually breaking the laws? Hmm.
  • Of course legal doesn’t mean safe – alcohol and tobacco are legal, after all. Do kids think it acceptable enjoy their Frosties with a splash of ice cold ethanol every morning?
  • Also, banning something because sellers might sell an illegal substitute instead is mental. If I went to the supermarket and cheekily sprinkled cocaine on the doughnuts, would doughnuts be banned? Obviously the best way to tackle this fairly serious issue would be through regulation. Obviously.

Strategy Impact Assessment

Description and scale of key monetised costs by ‘main affected groups’

The temporary banning power for so-called “legal highs” is an enabling power and therefore has no direct impact. There will be some limited additional economic and financial costs incurred by Government as a result of the introduction of the Drug Strategy; however we have not included the value of these monetised costs owing to the early phase of development and the potential commercial sensitivity of such analysis.
  • Costs will surely be massive, as my next comment suggests


There has also been the emergence of “legal highs” as a new trend with young people taking new legal chemicals instead of or as well as other drugs. Most of these substances have never been tested for use on humans and the immediate risks they pose or the long term damage they cause are often not immediately apparent as the harms are unknown.
Legislation is required to introduce a new system of temporary bans on new “legal highs” while health issues are considered by independent experts.
  • How much time and money will it cost to fully analyse a substance? If 10 new substances emerge around the same time, that cost increases tenfold, along with the pressure to complete each analysis within the allotted timeframe (which isn’t specified anywhere in these documents – more on that later).
  • A great deal of the evidence considered by the ACMD comes from users, such as forum posts, hospital visits or amnesty bins outside nightclubs, for example. How will they pick up on idiosyncrasies affecting say one in 1000 people? I somehow doubt that a rushed report based on poor evidence will be particularly thorough.
  • How dangerous does something have to be to earn itself a ban? Anything psychoactive is potentially dangerous, as an altered mental state could lead to an accident or something; driving while tired is dangerous enough to warrant loads of signs along the motorway but we’re not banning tiredness (although, that would be awesome if it were somehow possible!). I just can’t imagine a report concluding “Naw, it’s totally fine!” about anything that isn’t completely inert.
  • The ACMD have reported before about what a stupid idea it was to upgrade cannabis to class B, but the government went ahead anyway. What’s stopping them from doing the same in these situations? This whole idea looks like an underhand way of introducing a new supercharged banning stick, like using anti-terror legislation to silence protesters or harass minorities.

Reducing Supply

Reduce the risk of harm from new psychoactive substances, so called “legal highs”: by introducing a system of temporary bans while the health issues are considered by independent experts

We will establish an effective forensic early warning system

We will introduce technology at the borders to assist with the identification of new drugs

Work with UK based internet providers to ensure they comply with the letter and spirit of UK law

Cost / Benefit

PolicySummary of Costs / Benefits
Reduce the risk of harm from new psychoactive substances, so called “legal highs”: by introducing a system of temporary bans while the health issues are considered by independent expertsCostsIt is not possible to quantify the costs of these provisions. As the provisions introduce an enabling power for temporary bans, rather than controlling any specific substance, it has not been possible to quantify the costs. The use of this provision will depend on the rate at which new potentially harmful “legal highs” are introduced to the UK market. A full Regulatory Impact Assessment will be completed on each occasion that the power is used, taking into account any evidence on prevalence of availability and use, in the same way when a drug is brought under permanent control under 1971 Act.BenefitsFor the reasons given, it is not possible to quantify the benefits of these provisions. The overarching benefit of a faster legislative response is to reduce the likelihood of a criminal market developing with associated enforcement costs as well as limiting both potential harm to individual users health, including dependency, with associated treatment costs and wider societal harms.
We will establish an effective forensic early warning systemCostsThere will be forensic and general administrative costs incurred by Government as a result of this policy. However, we cannot monetise these costs owing to the early phase of development of this policy option and the potential commercial sensitivity of such analysis.BenefitsThere will be non-monetised benefits incurred by Government as a result of this policy. The use of this provision will depend on the rate at which new harmful ‘legal highs’ are introduced to the market. We can expect the societal benefits of reduced harm from new ‘legal highs’ through the ability to identify and therefore ban them more quickly.
We will introduce technology at the borders to assist with the identification of new drugs.CostsThere will be forensic and technological costs incurred by Government as a result of this policy. However, we cannot monetise these costs owing to the early phase of development of this policy option and the potential commercial sensitivity of such analysis.BenefitsIt is not possible to quantify the benefits of these provisions. The use of this provision will depend on the rate at which new harmful ‘legal highs’ are introduced to the market. We can expect the societal benefits of reduced harm from new ‘legal highs’ through the ability to identify and therefore ban them more quickly.
  • No estimate of the cost for even a single analysis. This bit also points out that these analyses are identical to those already performed before a regular ban, so you’d think they’d include an estimate at least.
  • The overall tone suggests, once again, that these analyses are no more than a formality. They don’t even consider what might happen should an analysis conclude something’s not that bad after all.

The ACMD’s Response

What else do you think we can do to keep one step ahead of the changing drugs markets?

Changing drug trends can be identified at many levels, all of which should be monitored and information gathered so as to be aware of changing drug markets and ultimately, harms to users. Reports may be gathered from the National / European level to local level concerning initially, (among others), seizures, forensics, accident and emergency admissions, internet based sales, service users etc. Such evidence should be used to inform drugs that are to be considered.

The internet has become a critical vector in the development of drug markets for novel / legal highs. Monitoring sales sites and conducting test purchasing (with forensic examination of the products) provides key information on emerging trends and markets. At present this is an occasional academic activity but there is a strong case for this to be routine.

  • So, the best way to “keep ahead” of the changing market is by seeing what happens when people actually use something, which, as I mentioned before, will be much less effective with a temporary ban in place.

Do you have a view on what factors the government should take into consideration when deciding to invoke a temporary ban on a new substance?

The ACMD are responding separately to the Minister for Crime Prevention on this issue. The ACMD’s consideration of the ‘trigger point’ for a Temporary Banning Power (i.e. factors), as sent to the Minister is:

The ACMD does not believe the point at which consideration is given to invoking a Temporary Banning Power should be too prescriptive. The purpose of the temporary banning power should be the prevention of harms. Therefore, the ACMD considers that the trigger point should be ‘[on the available evidence] there are reasonable grounds for considering that a substance does, or has, the potential to cause harm’. As part of the ACMD’s initial consideration as to whether a temporary banning power should be invoked it will look to understand the identity of the substance, consider related substances, consider any legitimate uses and gather evidence internationally and locally regarding the substance and its harms (including, for example, A&E admissions, known pharmacology, dependency and social harms etc.). However, it is not possible to detail the ‘level’ of evidence that would be required, nor what that evidence would be – evidence, and the relative importance of each type of evidence, will depend on the substance being considered.

  • The key phrase here is “[we can temp ban shit if] a substance does, or has, the potential to cause harm” – as I mentioned before, anything has the potential to cause harm. ANYTHING.

Should there be a greater focus on treating people who use substances other than heroin or crack cocaine, such as powder cocaine and so called legal highs?

See earlier answer regarding prevention. Service needs should be delivered based on the harms experienced by each individual drug (although a full service for all drugs would be the ideal). This principle is even more important during a period of austerity. It would be difficult to ask for a widening of remit whilst reducing available resources. The ideal answer to this question is different from the pragmatic one. Reduce the risk of harm from new psychoactive substances, so called “legal highs”: by introducing a system of temporary bans while the health issues are considered by independent experts.

Legal Highs Section on the Home Office Website

Action on stopping ‘legal highs’ coming on to the market is a priority for the government. The coalition agreement states, ‘We will introduce a system of temporary bans on new “legal highs” while health issues are considered by independent experts. We will not permanently ban a substance without receiving full advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.’

‘Legal highs’ pose a significant health risk, so banning is a public health measure. A ban sends a clear message to users of ‘legal highs’ (including young people who may be considering trying them), and to those selling them. Young people in particular may equate legal with safe and do not always understand that these drugs carry real risks.

Mephedrone (often referred to as ‘meow meow’), an earlier legal high, was made a class B drug in April 2010, while Naphyrone (often sold as ‘NRG-1’) was made a class B drug on 23 July 2010. Both these drugs are now illegal to have, sell or give away.

  • What happened following the mephedrone ban (catalysed by the media’s undue hype)? Ivory Wave.

TalkToFrank Website

This is the only place with any specifics about the banning process.

The Government have announced that they will introduce a new system of one-year temporary bans on new ‘legal highs’ while the health issues can be considered by an independent group of experts, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).  This new system is likely to be introduced in autumn 2011
  • The media keep saying “with immediate effect” – August 2011 is hardly immediate
  • The bans are in place for the maximum of a year, while proper clinical trials take several years – also, trialling a new potentially life-saving drug doesn’t bring up anywhere near the amount of ethical issues as testing a recreational substance under the assumption it’s probably harmful

Interesting Bits & Pieces

The UK is of course not unique in having to confront drug misuse. So, as we build upon this strategy, we are committed to continuing to review new evidence on what works in other countries and what we can learn from it.
  • Lol.
The estimated £18-25 billion a year cost of alcohol misuse spans alcohol related disorders and diseases, crime, loss of productivity in the workplace and health and social problems experienced by those who misuse alcohol and the impact this has on their families. For the NHS alone, the estimated financial burden of the harmful use of alcohol (regularly drinking at increasing or higher risk levels) is around £2.7 billion.
  • All of the sciences get £3 billion between them. Just sayin’.

It is estimated that 1.6 million people have mild, moderate or severe alcohol dependence. About a third of these will face some challenges that are similar to those dependent on drugs in needing support to help them recover. It is specialist alcohol treatment, for those in this group who would benefit from treatment, that this strategy aims to improve.

The illicit drug market in the UK is worth an estimated £4-6 billion per year.

Should we be making more of the potential to use the benefit system to offer claimants a choice between;

  1. some form of financial benefit sanction, if they do not to take action to address their drug or alcohol dependency; or
  2. additional support to take such steps, by tailoring the requirements placed upon them as a condition of benefit receipt to assist their recovery (for example temporarily removing the need to seek employment whilst undergoing treatment).

Treatment should not be linked to financial sanctions. In this scenario a few may benefit, however the majority may not as it does not take into account the genesis of the addiction.

Defining drug and alcohol dependency may cause some problems – even though there are clear definitions there may still be differing opinion. Sharing information also presents the ACMD with some concerns.

  • When we first read about this, Jo & I came to the same conclusion immediately: the government has no idea what addiction is or what it means to be addicted. Nice to know the experts agree – we can’t be going too far wrong!


Well, that’s the lot, but you might be interested in my Top 10 Reasons Why Legal Highs Should Stay Legal..

Posted in Legislation | Tagged ACMD, addiction, alcohol, drug strategy, impact assessment, legal highs, temporary bans |

DEFCON 1: USA Bans Cannabinoids in K2, Spice, et al

Here’s a generic news report you’ve probably all read already:

DEA Moves to Emergency Control Synthetic Marijuana

Agency Will Study Whether To Permanently Control Five Substances

NOV 24 — WASHINGTON, D.C. – The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is using its emergency scheduling authority to temporarily control five chemicals (JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497, and cannabicyclohexanol) used to make “fake pot” products. Except as authorized by law, this action will make possessing and selling these chemicals or the products that contain them illegal in the U.S. for at least one year while the DEA and the United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) further study whether these chemicals and products should be permanently controlled.

A Notice of Intent to Temporarily Control was published in the Federal Register today to alert the public to this action. After no fewer than 30 days, DEA will publish in the Federal Register a Final Rule to Temporarily Control these chemicals for at least 12 months with the possibility of a six-month extension. They will be designated as Schedule I substances, the most restrictive category, which is reserved for unsafe, highly abused substances with no medical usage.

Over the past year, smokable herbal blends marketed as being “legal” and providing a marijuana-like high, have become increasingly popular, particularly among teens and young adults. These products consist of plant material that has been coated with research chemicals that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, and are sold at a variety of retail outlets, in head shops and over the Internet. These chemicals, however, have not been approved by the FDA for human consumption and there is no oversight of the manufacturing process. Brands such as “Spice,” “K2,” “Blaze,” and “Red X Dawn” are labeled as incense to mask their intended purpose.

Since 2009, DEA has received an increasing number of reports from poison centers, hospitals and law enforcement regarding these products. Fifteen states have already taken action to control one or more of these chemicals. The Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 amends the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to allow the DEA Administrator to emergency schedule an abused, harmful, non-medical substance in order to avoid an imminent public health crisis while the formal rule-making procedures described in the CSA are being conducted.

“The American public looks to the DEA to protect its children and communities from those who would exploit them for their own gain,” said DEA Acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. “Makers of these harmful products mislead their customers into thinking that ‘fake pot’ is a harmless alternative to illegal drugs, but that is not the case. Today’s action will call further attention to the risks of ingesting unknown compounds and will hopefully take away any incentive to try these products.”

This all happened in the UK a year ago,  and it took about 7 months before anything decent returned to the shelves. Which is good news for you ‘Mer’cans-  there’s already loads of stuff available that’s still legal..

Posted in Legislation | Tagged cannabicyclohexanol, CP-47497, JWH-018, jwh-073, JWH-200, k2, spice, synthetic cannabinoids |

Location-Dependent Effects Of Drugs On Behaviour

Drugs on BehaviourClick pic for larger version. Brought to my attention by @tripmenz

Also, have a look at this bit of mini-research I did on why we get high in the first place..

Posted in Drugs | Tagged behaviour, infographics |

Dutch Entrepreneurs, Get Ready To Make Some Money

The Dutch coalition government disagree on a great many things – much like our own, I suppose, which saw Nick Clegg go from kingmaker to skivvy overnight – but the one thing they do agree on is that coffee shops (just typed “coffeesh0ps” by mistake – force of habit!) are an embarrassment to The Netherlands and should be extirpated.


Since they can’t just get rid of them overnight, their first step is to try and ban the sale of cannabis to anyone who’s not a Dutch resident. This has already happened in a couple of towns near the borders, receiving the green light from the EU Court. The appropriate EU legislation concerning the “freedom to provide services” would normally prevent bans on trading with foreigners, but since cannabis is an illegal drug, it doesn’t count as regular “goods”, and so falls short of the scope of the law. As such, this means they can do the same across the entire country.

If this ever happens, here’s an idea about how it could easily be exploited: get a Dutch resident to buy it for you with a small fee, say €1 a gram.

Then it occurred to me that many places allow smoking, but don’t actually sell weed themselves. If those places had a couple of guys who offered to go get the weed for the foreigners for that small fee, they could also give a cut to the establishment in return for letting them conduct their business there.

That sounds like it’d work, right?.

Posted in Legislation | Tagged cannabis, coffee shops, prohibition, weed |

Nov 2010: What I’ve Been Up To

Thought I’d write a quick update about what I’ve been up to recently.


So it turns out the best thing about running your own proper business is not only do you have to shell out shitloads for an accountant, but your workload also increases by loads with all the day to day bookkeeping! Ugh. Not only am I now busier than ever, but my work enjoyment density, or average enjoyment per arbitrary amount of work I have to do, has declined. And! This month is when our first year’s accounts have to be completed, as we’ve been a limited company since last October.

(The one benefit to running a limited company is that I have a “company seal” – a little rubber squeezy stamp type thing that imprints “John & Jo’s Coffeesh0p Limited” in any piece of paper that’s had the misfortune to cross my path. Fuck knows what it’s actually for, but it does offer some small comfort at least.)

So today, I’ve been hacking together various scripts and queries to try and automate the drudgery somewhat.

Stock photo of some accountants.
Their apparent dynamism & relaxed attitude are but a thin veneer disguising unparalleled boredom, resentment for their boss, colleagues & clients alike, and a cold, black, lonely heart.


I mentioned it on Twitter, but we went to Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago. I suppose that’s another perk, since the business kindly agreed to pay for it. Hopefully, the Mrs will write up at least some of the trip eventually, but she’s busier than me! I’ll also talk about a related competition-type thing soon…

Anyway, as you’d expect, going away for a week results in mountains and mountains of…


So many emails! I’m still catching up on the work-related ones, and I haven’t had time to reply to anyone that’s emailed me here for literally months. Really sorry if you’ve been in touch and I’ve not had the chance to reply yet. Unless you’ve sent me some kind of hate mail. Then I’m not sorry in the slightest!

Bagging Stuff

The problem with selling more and more stuff is that more and more stuff needs packaging, which often means my fingers are raw from labelling up bags or I’m elbow-deep in kilogram sacks of miscellaneous entheogen; tissue rammed up my nose as a pre-emptive strike against the inevitable green snot or uncontrollable sneezing. On the upside, we’ve recently had our first few wholesale orders of Meen Green, which is doing way better than we ever could have expected.

New Products

Not only have I got a boxful of products not yet on Coffeesh0p, but we’re also just about to release a new solid, crumbly incense. It’s seriously amazing, and it’s good to go, I just haven’t had enough time in the day to finally get it on the site!

The thing with new products is, it’s not just uploading data from the supplier into a database; it’s quite a bit more effort. There’s the usual stuff like pricing and other boring data like what category they’ll reside in, where abouts in the category they should go or what other products to recommend, but the biggest tasks are writing descriptions that are both interesting and, most importantly, honest, without straying into hyped-up marketing bullshit talk, and sorting out the images. I’ve seen loads of sites in this industry just robbing crappy lo-res pics off other competing sites, or using the same stock photo from the supplier as everyone else, but where’s the fun in that?! To get a decent pic up along side the product description, the first step is trying to take a decent photo of it. This usually involves me running madly between rooms on a quest to achieve the perfect lighting (impossible in this house), commandeering the tiny bathroom mirror to capture the maximum amount of photons, laying down sheets of white paper to make a plain background and fudging together little supports to keep it in all place. When  I’ve finally taken a half decent picture, then I have to photoshop the crap out of it.

Before your feathers get all ruffled and you start declaring shenanigans, my goal is to make the digital image actually look like the product in real life. That’s it. I don’t have a proper studio or mega expensive camera – as I said, I take all the product pictures round the house, using printer paper for a backdrop in dim light. Most pictures start out looking dull, covered in a murky orange haze, so I mainly tinker with the levels,  contrast, saturation – that sort of thing – and then try and cut out the background so it’s completely white. For products with actual packaging, I might straighten them up, as if I’d taken the picture precisely above it, or I might get rid of the natural, terrible shadow and replace it with something slightly more uniform. I also like having a couple of images for each product, so that process needs repeating for each image, then, finally, I need to cut out a suitable thumbnail to display on category pages and search results.

I might actually write a full post about doing product pics, like a step by step guide, so you can see the improvements and how little mischief I’m really up to. Which brings me to my final point…


My last post already talked about all the behind-the-scenes stuff I’ve been up to, but I’ve also got a few half finished posts I’ve been meaning to get done, as well as ideas for a million more.

So, yeah, don’t start to think I’ve lost interest, or can’t be arsed replying to you. We’re both in this for the long haul!.

Posted in Synchronium | Tagged accounting, amsterdam, business, coffeesh0p, photos, Photoshop, products |

A Change Of Pace

Or rather a change of pace, a change of content and a change of design.

So far, I’ve mainly written articles with the primary intention of presenting “the facts”, even if you do have to distil them from the murky casserole of terrible jokes, swearing and catpix. These kinds of posts might be about a pharmacological process, a recipe, tek, or perhaps an update on a news story or developing situation, and I’ve tried to write something about once every week or two. The problem is, these kind of posts usually require all sorts of crazy shit like “forethought” and “reading stuff”. It’s not that I’m incapable of such bizarre activities, it’s just that I’ve often got more to say than the time it would take to say it properly. I’ve always felt it necessary to try and cover as much of a topic as I can, while trying to present it nicely as possible, but that level of effort means I can only be arsed only have the time to write articles like that sporadically.  As a result, I’ve ended up not bothering to write about a number of interesting topics that perhaps weren’t that big of a deal because there’s not enough time in the day to cover them all “properly”.  So, I quit.

Hah. Only joking.

I’m going to try blogging a bit more casually instead. The plan is to write shorter posts, perhaps not going into all the details, or considering all eventualities, or whatever. I might be more likely to just quote the odd article, for instance, or maybe just write down my opinions on something. The upshot is I’m hoping to post more frequently about a broader range of subjects, so everyone’s a winner! That is, unless you hate what I have to say, in which case, why haven’t you fucked off yet?

I’m not giving up writing longer posts altogether though. Far from it! In fact, writing more posts in general will probably encourage me, and I’ve had a few topics in mind for ages.

The next thing I’m changing is the blog’s design.

Probably something like this?

No, nothing that amazing, don’t panic, just a few tweaks here ‘n’ there to find what works best for the largest amount of people. And I’m going to do it with science!

For a while now, I’ve been thinking how long the blog takes to load, especially the front page, and especially for new users with an empty cache. Shaving off a second or two doesn’t sound like a big deal, but you’d be surprised on how much of an impact the speed of a website can have, but it affects almost everything, such as how long people stay on the site, how many pages they view in that visit, how likely it is they’ll pass your link around, how likely it is they’ll buy something and how much they’ll spend (for ecommerce sites) and potentially where the site will rank in Google.

Pages Per Visit vs Page Speed

Have a look at some more graphs ‘n’ charts to see just how much those few seconds matter.

I’ve already gone through the entire blog and compressed the fuck out of every single image, shaving off an entire megabyte in total, but only a fraction of those images are on the front page. Luckily, there’s a few things I can do that will specifically affect the front page:

  • Display less posts
  • Display only the first bit of posts (with a “Read More” link to the rest)
  • Don’t display as many images
  • Write shorter posts

That last one I’ve already covered, so what about the first three design-related options? Obviously, they’d all reduce load time, and, if I went as far as displaying only the one post’s headline and first three letters with zero images, load time would be minimal, but then no one would stick around anyway. A site needs to be fast, but it still needs some content to keep people engaged.

To find the most effective trade-off, I’ve set up a little experiment… In the marketing biz, it’s called a split test, and it works something like this:

You create several different versions of something – it could be an entirely different page layout or design, or it could be as simple as placing a little button in different places on the same page – and then you randomly assign each visitor to one particular variation (making sure they always see the same variation on subsequent visits). Then you just sit back and watch the data pour in.

After a while, you can then start to compare how each group of visitors behave. Version #3 might keep people on the site for twice as long, but version #2 might see people return thrice as often. When  enough data has been collected, hopefully a victor will emerge.

Yesterday, I created six versions of the front page and got the experiment under way. Here are the details:

V110 full posts are displayed – this is how it’s been for everyone up to now, so this is the control
V28 full posts
V36 full posts
V4Latest two posts displayed in full, next two are max 1300 characters, next two are max 800, rest are 500 max – 15 posts in total
V5Same as above, but 20 posts (so more of the 500 character excerpts at the bottom)
V620 posts again,  but only first post in full, next two 1300 characters max, next five 800 max, rest 500 max

Anything that’s not a full post won’t have any images in it either, and older pages (there’s a link to older posts at the bottom of the front page) will display the same as the last post on the front page, so older pages of V1-3 will be exactly the same as the front page, while older pages of V4-V6 will have 15 or 20 posts of 500 character excerpts with no images. Also, the excerpt length is approx, and will (hopefully) round off to the nearest whole word.

When it’s clear that one has performed better than the other, I’ll stop the experiment and implement the winning version for all users. Then I’ll probably test something else. Of course, there’s no guarantee one of them will perform any better, in which case, I’ll pick the one I like best. Whatever happens, I’ll let you know, probably via some off-the-cuff scribble of a post.

… Which is what I was hoping this post would be, but it looks like I’ve ended up writing loads again..

Posted in Internet Marketing, Synchronium | Tagged content, images, page speed, science, split test |

Let’s Ban this Menace to Society, Quick!

As you may remember from my Bachelorette Drinking Game post, we accidentally got addicted to The Bachelorette while on honeymoon and we since watched the rest of the series all the way to the final.

More dangerous than cannabis.

What prompted this post is the fact that Ali, the “bachelorette”, blatantly picked the wrong guy to marry. Basically, she fancied this guy and got rid of the guy who she was better friends with, as being friends is apparently not the best way to start a marriage. Instead, she picked this steaming pile of cliché who continuously struggles to think up the perfect “smooth” response to everything she says. That kind of attitude isn’t exactly maintainable for a lifetime of marriage, so we both felt that this manufactured engagement was bound to end in failure sooner or later.

So I did a bit of research and here’s what I found:

The Bachelor

SeasonOutcomeTime to Failure
1No proposal, then broke upSeveral months
2Proposed, then broke upSeveral months
3Proposed, then broke upSeveral months
4No proposal, then broke upSeveral months
5No proposal, then broke upSeveral months
6Engaged, not sure if they got married, then broke upFive years!
7No proposal, then on again off again relationshipTwo stints of two years
8No proposal, then broke upShortly after
9No proposal, then broke upSeveral months
10Engaged, called off the engagement but continued relationship then broke upOne month to call off engagement, several months to break up
11No proposal, both women rejected
12Proposed, then broke upSeveral months
13Proposed, then changed mind and married the runner upInstantly, but him and runner up still together
14Proposed, then broke upSeveral months

The Bachelorette

SeasonOutcomeTime to Failure
1Proposed, marriedStill together!
2Proposed, then broke upSeveral months
3No proposal, both blokes rejected
4Proposed, then broke upSeveral months
5Proposed, then broke upSeveral months
6Engaged …for nowIn all likelihood, “several months”

For The Bachelor, that’s 11 out of 14 seasons that ended in what I’d consider a complete failure. I’d say season 6 was the most successful, leading to a 5 year marriage. Not amazing by a long shot, but definitely the furthest from an abysmal failure. Season 7 was slightly worse, with the couple managing two stints of two years. Worse still, but perhaps not quite in the same league of failure as the rest was season 13, where the bloke ended up marrying the runner up. Yes, they’re still together, but that season was in 2009 – hardly worth getting excited about, right? If you’re wondering why I classify season 11 (everyone rejected) as a failure, well, I’d consider anything other than a long happy marriage a failure for the reasons I’ll set out shortly.

The previous five seasons of The Bachelorette have only given us one success, and based on what we saw from the latest season, I’m not holding out much hope.

How These Programs Wreck Lives

I can’t claim that something is a menace to society without giving some reasons, so let’s have a quick think over some of the ways people can end up hurt…

First off, the marriages this program churns out are far more likely to end in divorce compared with the real world. And that’s a downside that only affects the winners. One half of the winning couple also has to be constantly aware of the fact that their new husband or wife was not only seeing multiple partners right up to their engagement, but also will likely see their new spouse with all these different people when they inevitably end up rewatching clips from their series, or having to talk about it for magazines, catch-up shows, etc. This also applies to both sets of parents – one of which will be thinking their child is some kind of whore and the other having to watch their child be systematically cheated on until their engagement.

If that’s how shit it must be for the winners, what’s it like for the losers then? Other than the immediate misery/humiliation resulting from rejection, the whole experience then becomes a massive skeleton-in-the-closet for any future relationships. If you got kicked off the program toward the beginning, you might have come across as an arse or something, but the later you stay on, the more serious your relationship becomes – all of which is meticulously documented for any future girl/boyfriend to watch, if they haven’t seen it already. One guy in this latest series we watched even got a tattoo to commemorate the experience/show any prospective girlfriends just how completely mental he was.

The winners who then get divorced are fortunate enough to receive both sets of crippling disadvantages, as well as then having to actually get a divorce! That’s not like an ex that gets less and less significant the longer you’ve been apart – it’s a legal procedure that you’ll constantly have to declare and explain away to future partners.

To top it all off, this program is being pumped out by a country where around half of its population of over 310 million people oppose gay marriage; one of their reasoning being that it threatens the sanctity of marriage. Funnily enough, it’s this same chunk of the population that claims cannabis will send you mental and wreck your family.

When you compare The Bachelor with the odd joint, suddenly it doesn’t seem so bad….

Posted in Drugs | Tagged cannabis, gay rights, society, the bachelorette, tv |

JWH-018 Toxicology Wordcloud

Just knocked up this little graphic (via Wordle & Photoshop) using the full text of my JWH-018 Toxicology article:


Posted in Drugs | Tagged JWH-018 |

Ben Goldacre, The Mrs & I

I’ve almost finished a blog post about everyone’s favourite topic, The Bachelorette, but in the mean time, here’s a picture of us two and Ben Goldacre:

This was taken just after his lecture in Birmingham for the British Science Festival a few weeks ago. For those of you who don’t know who he is, Ben Goldacre is a doctor, writes the  Bad Science column in The Guardian every Saturday, runs a blog & forums at and has also released the amazingly unputdownable book …Bad Science.

In my list of 5 Books To Expand Your Mind, this is what I had to say about Bad Science:

Bad Science is your defence against a world of horse crap where everyone is trying to rip you off.

What it’s about: Confused about MMR jabs? Homoeopathy? Crystal healing? Fish oil? Then read this book.

Why it will expand your mind: You’ll learn the simplicity of the scientific method and why it’s so important to the world we live in. It will teach you to think for yourself and apply a healthy dose of scepticism to the next dose of health advice you might hear about from someone trying to sell you something. Not particularly mind expanding on its own, but it has a synergy with all the other books in this list.

There’s also a chapter from the book elsewhere on the blog: The Doctor Will Sue You Now.

The lecture itself was on “Drug Company Bullshit”, describing the various tricks big pharmaceutical companies perform in order to make their results look good, massage bad results or make them disappear entirely. Quite a dry, technical talk really, but what else should two troublemakers like us be doing on a Friday night in Birmingham?

Since science is obviously really important, if you’ve got a minute, please consider signing this petition trying to stop cuts in vital science funding.

Oh, and for anyone wondering about my awesome T-shirt, it has this to say:


Posted in Personal | Tagged bad science, ben goldacre, science |

What The Bible Has To Say About Drugs

Awesome. The pope has arrived in the UK. That’s just what this country needs – a bill to the taxpayer of upwards of £10 million so a paedo-concealin’ old bloke can patronise us all with his outdated moral code and flagrant disregard for human rights, even though only a quarter of us actively support the visit, at a time when science funding is about to face monstrous cuts. Brilliant!

To celebrate, I thought I’d take a look at what the Bible had to say about drugs. Obviously, I’m no theologian, so I’m basing this post on the interpretation given by (GQ from now on), who:

Seeks to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by providing biblical, applicable, and timely answers to spiritually-related questions through an internet presence.

Their website looks to be quite a big deal, probably getting over 100,000 pageviews a day, so who better to spiritually guide us on our quest for information? Let’s get started…

The Bible doesn’t have anything to say about drugs explicitly, however drug use is covered within the scope of other, broader teachings.

"...something something something complete!"

Rule #1 – Don’t break the law

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

Romans 13:1–5

So, that immediately rules out any illegal drug use, lest an “agent of wrath […] bring punishment”, so that’s a “No” to cannabis, LSD, ecstasy, heroin, etc! GQ helpfully offers up this snippet of wisdom, in case we feel the laws are unjust:

Contrary to popular belief [what?!], simply disagreeing with a law does not constitute a license for breaking that law.

Cannabis should be legal, I hear you scream! But what about alcohol and tobacco, I hear you ask? Hypocrisy! Well, our friends at GQ have already thought of that:

Many have argued that marijuana does not warrant prohibition. They contend that smoking pot in defiance of the law is justifiable on these grounds and in light of (what they perceive to be) the hypocrisy of outlawing weed while allowing nicotine and alcohol consumption. Those who argue this point may be sincere in their conviction, but they are mistaken nonetheless. Heartfelt disdain for the law does not justify impunity towards it, as our Lord Himself made clear. While rebuking the Pharisees for turning the Law of Moses into an excessively oppressive yoke, Christ still required His disciples to submit to their unfairly harsh demands (Matthew 23:1-36, especially 1-4). Dutiful submission to authority and patient perseverance through unjust suffering and/or perceived unfairness (1 Peter 2:18-23 [Partly quoted below]) is God’s high standard for us – even if that means having to abstain from marijuana in compliance with “unfair” legislation.

Here’s the coolest bit of the Bible they reference to support their point, so you don’t have to go looking it up:

Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.

1 Peter 2:18-19

Right, ok. So breaking the law is bad, no matter how unjust we think it is. Fair enough. Surely then, we can smoke a bit of weed in The Netherlands or enjoy some coca tea in Bolivia, or consume some legal highs? Right? Right?!


Rule #2 – Don’t harm your body

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17

Everyone knows drugs are harmful. In fact, here’s an old graph listing 20 different drugs ordered by the harm they cause. You’ve almost definitely seen it before.

Notice how no drug in that graph has a harm rating of zero, and according to GQ:

Beyond stewardship, as Christians, our bodies are not our own. We “have been bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), not “with perishable things like silver or gold . . . but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:17-19). Having bought us with His own life, Christ has delighted to create in us something entirely new, something somewhat bizarre. By indwelling us with His Spirit, He has turned us into organic temples of sorts. So now, caring for our health is not just a matter of good stewardship. It is a matter of reverential piety. To pollute or harm our bodies is to desecrate the House of God (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 [The bit I quoted earlier]). This is both wondrous and terrifying.

GQ also talk about a number of individual drugs and the damage they cause. Here’s what they have to say about cannabis:

Marijuana, while being the least harmful of all of the illicit drugs, is still potentially lethal. Marijuana enthusiasts (“potheads”) take comfort in the fact that, unlike most other illicit drugs, it is seemingly impossible to fatally overdose on weed by means of normal consumption (i.e. smoking it). But this does nothing to diminish the potentially fatal risks of lung cancer, emphysema, and other forms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) caused by marijuana smoke. While marijuana can be ingested without smoking it, thereby eliminating these risks, there still remain negative physiological and psychological consequences including damage to the reproductive system, the immune system, and cognitive ability.

At this point I was wondering what their guidance was on alcohol but they don’t seem to have mentioned it. That’s odd, what with alcohol being ranked fifth most harmful on that graph above. Looks like I’ll have to come to my own conclusions without GQ’s help then! Let me think for a moment…

Ok, got it. In John 2:1-11, Jesus turns water into wine:

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.

John 2:1-11

Crikey, how about that then! If Jesus himself not only condones drinking wine but practically busts out a keg, then alcohol must be the exception to the rule, despite the massive objective harm alcohol causes, right? I know what you’re thinking – one bible quote doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the case. What about other evidence? Well, there’s also the Catholic belief in transubstantiation, which:

means the change of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of the Body and Blood (respectively) of Christ in the Eucharist, while all that is accessible to the senses (accidents) remains as before.

Wikipedia on Transubstantiation

For starters, that’s what Catholics literally believe. The wine they use in church has *literally* become the blood of Christ, despite appearing to be wine and retaining all the properties of the wine, including alcohol content. The fact that Catholics not only drink this fortified Jesus-elixir routinely, and also that wine was selected by Christ to represent/become/whatever his blood both support my conclusion that alcohol is fiiiiiiine compared with the rest of the evil drugs, according to the bible and common church practice.

As I mentioned previously though, I’m no theologian, so I welcome other people’s thoughts on my conclusion in the comments.

Here are some final words of wisdom from my spiritual guides at GQ, this time on addiction:

As for drug addiction, not all illicit drugs are physically addictive. Nevertheless, they are all psychologically addictive. While most people are familiar with physical addiction – the progressive condition whereby the human body becomes physically dependent upon a drug in order to function properly – psychological addiction is less well-known. Psychological addiction is an enslavement of the mind, often characterized by obsessive tendencies and a lack of desire to quit. While physical addiction brings the body into subjection, psychological addiction brings the will into submission. Users tend to say things like, “I could quit if I wanted to, but I just don’t want to.” This attitude tends to ensure a long-term pattern of drug use whereby users become devotees in defiance of a very poignant biblical principle. The fact is, no one can wholeheartedly serve two masters (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13). Any time spent kneeling before the god of drugs [Best god freakin’ ever!!1] is time spent with your back towards the God of the Bible.

Fantastic stuff.

Finally, be sure to take a look at what neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris has to say about Religion & Drugs.

Here’s the link to the GQ page I’ve been quoting from, so you can bask in its glory..

Posted in Drugs | Tagged alcohol, cannabis, catholicism, jesus, religion, sam harris, the bible, the pope |